Best Engineering Careers for the Future

From medicine and software to energy and construction, engineering represents some of this decade's most lucrative and exciting career paths.

best engineering jobs in america

Sweeping advances in science, industry and computing have sparked a revolution in engineering employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts rapid growth for a range of engineering occupations through the next decade and beyond, but record job creation is only part of what makes this sector so attractive; six of the top 7 highest paying [undergraduate] college majors are in engineering, according to a salary survey from the National Association of Colleges & Employers.

Taking into account growth potential, compensation, and emotional "x-factors" for each position, here are the top five engineering careers for the future:

  1. Software Engineer

    Software engineers merge creativity and a mastery programming to develop the computer programs we use every day, including business productivity suites, operating systems, mobile applications and social networks.

    As the proliferation of mobile and cloud computing continues to change how we interact with the digital world, businesses are racing to develop new systems and applications to gain a competitive advantage in the rapidly evolving space. In addition to cloud and mobile expertise, software engineers with cyber-security skills will be in high demand as companies strive to protect their data and electronic infrastructure from escalating threats.

    X Factor: Unrivaled freedom in the form of freelance, entrepreneurship and remote employment opportunities.

    Median Salary Employment Change Number of New Jobs
    $103,560 + 24% 302,500
  2. Biomedical Engineer

    Biomedical engineers design solutions to advance the field of medicine and improve patients' quality of life. This can include activities like designing prosthetic limbs and artificial organs, conducting stem cell research to cure diseases, and developing better biological imaging systems.

    U.S. News & World Report named biomedical engineer "America's Top Technology Career" in 2011, and that was before the latest forecast from the U.S. Dept. of Labor confirmed continued record growth and increased wages through 2020. Demand for biomedical engineers will be driven by the increased medical needs of an aging baby-boomer generation, rapid innovations in current medical technologies, and deep research into the medical applications of emerging technologies, such as 3D Printing and Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems, a.k.a. MEMS (the precursor to nanobots).

    X Factors: Personal rewards of making a positive contribution to society. | Let your geek-flag fly as you do things previously thought to be science-fiction!

    Median Salary Employment Change Number of New Jobs
    $88,040 + 7% 1,500
  3. Petroleum Engineer

    Petroleum engineers design new ways to locate and extract oil and gas from subterranean deposits. This position often involves travel to drilling sites to supervise construction and operations.

    With just over 5,000 new jobs to be created through 2020, there aren't many positions to be had, but for those with the drive to make it, now is an ideal time to begin training for a petroleum engineering career. The outlook in this field is semi-dependent on political and economic trends (oil prices for example), and current trends point to a very bright future; new processing and production technologies, such as 3D seismic imaging, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. Fracking), have helped domestic petroleum production surpass imports (in May 2013) for first time since 1997. The International Energy Agency heralded more good news for petroleum engineers in its recent prediction that "the U.S. will be the world's biggest petroleum producer by 2020, and will be energy independent by 2030.”

    X Factor: Sate your adventurous spirit as you travel by land and sea to international drilling sites.

    Median Salary Employment Change Number of New Jobs
    $132,280 + 15% 5,100
  4. Civil Engineer

    Civil engineers design and manage large-scale construction projects, such as bridges and tunnels, buildings, airports, and public works like sewage treatment and water supply systems. Many civil engineers use computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) programs, such as AutoCAD, to render blueprints.

    As the American populace continues to grow, so does the infrastructure needs of her citizens. Key ventures that will drive civil engineer demand through 2020 include maintenance of aging roadways and mass-transit lines, upgrades to water supply and waste filtration systems, and commercial and residential real-estate development in and around high-growth population centers.

    X Factors: Personal satisfaction of seeing your vision come to life all around you. | "Recession Proof" - in a robust economy civil engineers build new infrastructure; in a recessed economy civil engineers focus on repairing and maintaining existing resources.

    Median Salary Employment Change Number of New Jobs
    $84,770 + 11% 32,200
  5. Environmental Engineer

    Environmental engineers apply their knowledge of natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry, to study and develop solutions for environmental problems. Key areas of interest include waste management, recycling, and the reduction of air and water pollution.

    Stateside career opportunities for environmental engineers are skyrocketing as businesses strive to meet new air and water pollution regulations, while implementing cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to reduce costs and spur a competitive advantage. Political and socioeconomic trends will contribute to demand in this sector as special interest groups – and society at large – turn their focus to hot-button environmental issues like sustainable "green" energy, global climate change and the public health implications of fracking.

    X Factors: Potential travel to exotic locales. | The groovy feeling of saving Mother Earth for future generations.

    Median Salary Employment Change Number of New Jobs
    $86,800 + 8% 4,500

The benefits of a career in engineering are plainly evident, however there's a reason talented engineers are rewarded in kind -- becoming an engineer isn't easy, and only the best and brightest will excel in the classroom and go on to a top position. If you're passionate about learning how things work and curious how to make them better, and you're up for a world-class challenge, engineering offers a range of lucrative and exciting career options. The five engineering jobs listed here all hold a promising future, and are a great place to begin your research and determine which field excites you most.

Notes: Employment change percentage and new jobs measured from 2016 to 2026. Average growth rate for all occupations is 7%.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | National Association of Colleges & Employers | U.S. News & World Report | Money.CNN.com

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